Dylan in Eugene

“I know a place where there’s still something going on,” sings Bob Dylan on Love and Theft. The current tour proves him right. The place is wherever he and his crack band happen to be standing. What’s going on is the serious business of rock and roll, as conducted by an artist and a band at their peak.

On a Saturday night in early October, Dylan and company were standing in MacArthur Court, the ramshackle old basketball gym at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The near-capacity crowd was about equally divided between students and older fans. I sat next to a Vietnam vet who had last seen Dylan at the Concert for Bangla-Desh.

Dylan has opened most of his shows on recent tours with an acoutic number, a folk song like “Roving Gambler” or Duncan and Brady,” or a bluegrass gospel standard like “Somebody Touched Me” or “I Am the Man, Thomas.”

The current tour had opened in Seattle with “Solid Rock,” as “hard” a song as Dylan has ever recorded. In Eugene he strolled onstage in a 50s-looking white jacket, stood at an electronic piano, charged immediately into “Maggie’s Farm,” and kept going from there until it seemed the ancient wooden hall would literally explode during an astounding finale of “Summer Days,” with Dylan, Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell all soloing in ensemble on electric guitars, huddled close together with bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George Receli as though trying just to survive the apocalyptic fury of it all.

It was that kind of night. This looks like it is going to be that kind of tour.

On “Just Like a Woman” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” Dylan played piano with one hand and harmonica with the other. “Tombstone Blues” and “It’s All Right Ma, I’m only Bleeding” appeared in radical new arangements, as though co-written not by Dylan but by Howling Wolf and Earl King.

There were three Warren Zevon covers, including “Mutineer,” one of the most deeply emotional moments I’ve ever experienced at a Dylan concert. Dylan sang with his full range (of voice as well as feeling), demonstrating that the shredded croak of “Time Out of Mind” is no closer to his “real” voice than was the milky croon of “Nashville Skyline.” (I have heard a demo of “Everything Is Broken” on which he sounds like the Dylan of 1966.)

When Dylan finally stepped away from the piano and strapped on an electric guitar, it was to give us a “Brown Sugar” that rocked, if anything, harder than the Stones. His playing on both electric and acoustic was wonderful, with none of the “clunkers” of previous shows.

It feels strange to write of an artist who emerged in the Sixties that the strongest moments (in both performance and crowd response) of his current show are provided by songs released in the year 2001, but that is the simple fact of the matter. With, say, Paul McCartney, people get up and go to the bathroom when he plays new material. At Dylan’s Eugene show, which included both “Watching the River Flow” and a chillingly beautiful “Senor,” the real highlights were “Honest With Me,” “Lonesome Day Blues,” “Moonlight” (yes, he hit all the notes) and “Summer Days.”

You wonder, almost, if the day will come when people complain about Dylan playing so many of his old songs. People all around me were hoping he would play “Things Have Changed.”

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.

He can be reached at: davidvest@springmail.com

Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com


More articles by:

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It